Summer Reading Review 2022

Happy Labor Day – the weekend I publish my summer reading reviews. This summer, I held myself mostly accountable to my summer reading list (published here). I kept a printout of the covers above my desk for reference and checked off each as I completed it. For the first time, I abandoned one, and never read one of them at all – rereading about it made me just not want to pick it up at all.

So, now for the overall reviews and recommendations from those I had chosen for the summer:

The Magnolia Palace – 4.5 stars
The Ones We Keep – 4.5 stars
Book Lovers – 4 stars
This Time Tomorrow – 4 stars
Like a House on Fire – 3.5 stars
The Love of my Life – 3 stars
Unlikely Animals – 3 stars
The Dictionary of Lost Words – 3 stars
Sea of Tranquility – Abandoned
A Novel Obsession – Never Picked Up

I also read a bunch of books “off the list” and the only 5-star choice was:

Lessons in Chemistry

I’m always in need of good recommendations, so if you read anything amazing this summer, let me know! Happy school year!



An Island

An Island by Karen Jennings was a recommendation from Sarah Jessica Parker. Amazon: “Samuel has lived alone on an island off the coast of an unnamed African country for more than two decades. He tends to his garden, his lighthouse, and his chickens, content with a solitary life. Routinely, the nameless bodies of refugees wash ashore, but Samuel—who understands that the government only values certain lives, certain deaths—always buries them himself. One day, though, he finds that one of these bodies is still breathing. As he nurses the stranger back to life, Samuel—feeling strangely threatened—is soon swept up in memories of his former life as a political prisoner on the mainland. This was a life that saw his country exploited under colonial rule, followed by a period of revolution and a brief, hard-won independence—only for the cycle of suffering to continue under a cruel dictator. And he can’t help but recall his own shameful role in that history. In this stranger’s presence, he begins to consider, as he did in his youth: What does it mean to own land, or to belong to it? And what does it cost to have, and lose, a home?” It was a little confusing in parts as it jumped from past to present and, overall, I didn’t love it. As it was short, however, it wasn’t a completely terrible read.

True Biz

True Biz by Sara Novic was another buzzy title that was cheap on Kindle, so I grabbed it (even though I have still not quite finished my summer reading list. “True biz? The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf just want to hook up, pass their history finals, and have politicians, doctors, and their parents stop telling them what to do with their bodies. This revelatory novel plunges readers into the halls of a residential school for the deaf, where they’ll meet Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who’s never met another deaf person before; Austin, the school’s golden boy, whose world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing; and February, the hearing headmistress, a CODA (child of deaf adult(s)) who is fighting to keep her school open and her marriage intact, but might not be able to do both. As a series of crises both personal and political threaten to unravel each of them, Charlie, Austin, and February find their lives inextricable from one another—and changed forever. This is a story of sign language and lip-reading, disability and civil rights, isolation and injustice, first love and loss, and, above all, great persistence, daring, and joy. Absorbing and assured, idiosyncratic and relatable, this is an unforgettable journey into the Deaf community and a universal celebration of human connection.” (Amazon) I really enjoyed learning more about sign language and the conflict between cochlear implants and sign language. The extra information about deaf culture and history made it even more interesting. Terrific book, though terrible ending.

The Ones We Keep

I am not sure how The Ones We Keep by Bobbie Jean Huff ended up on my TBR and summer reading list, but I am so glad it did. “A quiet lakeside resort in Vermont seems like the perfect summer getaway for Olivia and Harry Somerville and their three young boys. But in a single moment, their idyllic family retreat becomes a mother’s worst nightmare. Returning from a solo hike one afternoon, Olivia learns from a passing stranger that one of her sons has drowned—but not which one. In that moment, Olivia makes a panicked decision that will change her family forever. If she never knows which son has drowned, can Olivia convince herself that none of them have? By shielding herself from reality, can she continue to live in a world where all three boys are still alive?” (Amazon) While it was really sad and hard to believe, I really enjoyed it and cried at the end. It wasn’t a long read and I really liked it.

Under the Banner of Heaven

I chose Under the Banner of Heaven to listen to on the 1700 mile road trip I took with my 17 year old. My son and I have read Jon Krakauer in the past, so it seemed like a good compromise. However, while interesting, we didn’t change to 1.5x speed early enough and suffered a bit as I mandated that we finish what we had started. Amazon: “Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God; some 40,000 people still practice polygamy in these communities. At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.” While overall, there were interesting things to learn, it was too long and too boring. Not Krakauer’s best.

Widowland

I am not sure how Widowland by CJ Carey landed on my list, but it was cheap on Kindle, so I grabbed it. “LONDON, 1953. Thirteen years have passed since England surrendered to the Nazis and formed a Grand Alliance with Germany. It was forced to adopt many of its oppressive ideologies, one of which was the strict classification of women into hierarchical groups based on the perceived value they brought to society. Rose Ransom, a member of the privileged Geli class, remembers life from before the war but knows better than to let it show. She works for the Ministry of Culture, rewriting the classics of English literature to ensure there are no subversive thoughts that will give women any ideas. Outbreaks of insurgency have been seen across the country with graffiti made up of seditious lines from forbidden works by women painted on public buildings. Suspicion has fallen on Widowland, the run-down slums where childless women over fifty have been banished. Rose is given the dangerous task of infiltrating Widowland to find the source of the rebellion before the Leader arrives in England for the Coronation ceremony of King Edward VIII and Queen Wallis.” (Amazon) It was certainly interesting and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it.

Hotel Nantucket

It wouldn’t be summer without a new Elin Hilderbrand. I didn’t love the ghost in Hotel Nantucket, but otherwise, it was pretty standard Hilderbrand fare. And, overall, it was an enjoyable diversion. Amazon: “Fresh off a bad breakup with a longtime boyfriend, Nantucket sweetheart Lizbet Keaton is desperately seeking a second act. When she’s named the new general manager of the Hotel Nantucket, a once Gilded Age gem turned abandoned eyesore, she hopes that her local expertise and charismatic staff can win the favor of their new London billionaire owner, Xavier Darling, as well as that of Shelly Carpenter, the wildly popular Instagram tastemaker who can help put them back on the map. And while the Hotel Nantucket appears to be a blissful paradise, complete with a celebrity chef-run restaurant and an idyllic wellness center, there’s a lot of drama behind closed doors. The staff (and guests) have complicated pasts, and the hotel can’t seem to overcome the bad reputation it earned in 1922 when a tragic fire killed nineteen-year-old chambermaid Grace Hadley. With Grace gleefully haunting the halls, a staff harboring all kinds of secrets, and Lizbet’s own romantic uncertainty, is the Hotel Nantucket destined for success or doom?” Looking for an end-of-summer breezy read, this is a good one.

Sorrow and Bliss

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason was positively reviewed by my favorite book blogger and so I grabbed it. “Martha Friel just turned forty. Once, she worked at Vogue and planned to write a novel. Now, she creates internet content. She used to live in a pied-à-terre in Paris. Now she lives in a gated community in Oxford, the only person she knows without a PhD, a baby or both, in a house she hates but cannot bear to leave. But she must leave, now that her husband Patrick—the kind who cooks, throws her birthday parties, who loves her and has only ever wanted her to be happy—has just moved out. Because there’s something wrong with Martha, and has been for a long time. When she was seventeen, a little bomb went off in her brain and she was never the same. But countless doctors, endless therapy, every kind of drug later, she still doesn’t know what’s wrong, why she spends days unable to get out of bed or alienates both strangers and her loved ones with casually cruel remarks. And she has nowhere to go except her childhood home: a bohemian (dilapidated) townhouse in a romantic (rundown) part of London—to live with her mother, a minorly important sculptor (and major drinker) and her father, a famous poet (though unpublished) and try to survive without the devoted, potty-mouthed sister who made all the chaos bearable back then, and is now too busy or too fed up to deal with her. But maybe, by starting over, Martha will get to write a better ending for herself—and she’ll find out that she’s not quite finished after all.” (Amazon) The story was well told, but it was just too depressing for me. And, while the resolution had some appeal, overall, it wasn’t a favorite.

The Lies I Tell

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark was on my TBR list for a while. I enjoyed The Last Flight and thought a thrilled was in order after The Rose Code. Amazon: “Meg Williams. Maggie Littleton. Melody Wilde. Different names for the same person, depending on the town, depending on the job. She’s a con artist who erases herself to become whoever you need her to be—a college student. A life coach. A real estate agent. Nothing about her is real. She slides alongside you and tells you exactly what you need to hear, and by the time she’s done, you’ve likely lost everything. Kat Roberts has been waiting ten years for the woman who upended her life to return. And now that she has, Kat is determined to be the one to expose her. But as the two women grow closer, Kat’s long-held assumptions begin to crumble, leaving Kat to wonder who Meg’s true target is.” While this wasn’t an on-the-edge-of-your-seat-can’t-put-down read, it was a decent mystery (less thriller) and a pretty good read.

The Rose Code

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn has been recommended to me over and over, but I have sworn off WWII books, so I didn’t listen. It was on the library shelf, so I figured I really had no excuse. I did really enjoy it and it wasn’t super mired in WWII like some. The story fluctuated between times and was a really interesting look into code breaking. My only complaint was that it was too long (common complaint for me). I can see why it needed to be as long as it was, but it was hard to hold because it was so big. “The year 1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything – beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious, self-made Mab, product of East End London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart. The year 1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter – the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger – and their true enemy – closer….” (Amazon) Overall, it was a great read.